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Justice Moves Ahead in the Central African Republic

Arrest of Former Militia Leader a Welcome Step

On December 12, Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, a one-time self-declared political coordinator of anti-balaka militias, was arrested in France on International Criminal Court (ICC) charges. With his arrest, the prospects for justice for grave crimes committed during the Central African Republic’s most recent crisis took a welcome step forward.

A burned Pentecostal church in Zéré. Hundreds of Christian and Muslim homes and places of worship were destroyed in the town during a series of attacks by both ex-Seleka and anti-balaka forces. November 4, 2013.

The anti-balaka is implicated in grave abuses during the country’s conflict since 2012, including attacking and killing civilians suspected of collaborating with Seleka rebels during the conflict.

Ngaissona is accused by the ICC of alleged responsibility for murder, deportation, imprisonment, and torture as part of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the western part of the Central African Republic between December 2013 and December 2014.

Ngaissona is the second arrest in a month in the ICC’s more recent investigation in the Central African Republic, thanks to the cooperation of authorities in France where Ngaissona was taken into custody. The ICC’s first investigation in the country, which focused on crimes committed in 2002 and 2003, has brought just one case, which ended in acquittal in June. Human Rights Watch criticized the lack of additional cases in the ICC’s first investigation, and has urged the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor to pursue charges that are representative of the crimes committed to ensure meaningful delivery of justice.

To that end, it will be crucial to see charges in this investigation cover suspects implicated in grave crimes from all warring groups. In particular, the Seleka and ex-Seleka groups are implicated in widespread continuing abuses and no ICC charges of individuals involved with the Seleka have been announced. As we have seen, pursuing cases involving individuals associated with just one side in a crisis can create enormous problems.

Ngaissona’s arrest is positive. Many in the Central African Republic claimed he was “untouchable” because of his senior post at the Confederation of African Football. But today’s news should be a wake-up call for perpetrators of the worst crimes all over the world: even those in positions of power can be held to account.

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